In theory, summer vacations are relaxing, but the planning leading up to your cocktail-and-cabana moment can leave you more stressed than ever. Ditch airport lines and germ-ridden airplanes, and try this instead: Stay home. We hear you—it hardly sounds like a zen way to spend the weekend—but after a few smart decorating tweaks that cater to your senses, it'll feel like a whole new place. We called on interior stylist Angela Belt and feng shui expert Laura Cerrano to find out how to have a real staycation and transform your abode into a tranquil retreat.
Unpack your bags and follow these tips to turn your home into a multisensory, stress-free space.
Address clutter. There's something instantly relaxing about walking into a pristine hotel suite free of clutter and overflowing hampers. To re-create the experience at home, address clutter first. A recent UCLA study found that women who live with clutter have higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone associated with a string of health issues. Start by placing baskets at every entryway for shoes, and trays and hampers where messes collect.
Layer lighting. "Create a calm environment [by layering] lighting throughout the space," Belt advises. "Try floor and table lamps with neutral color shades, like white or beige, to evoke a sense of calmness. [Design your own quiet nook by] layering accent lighting with a reading chair in a corner."
Seek symmetry. Consider the flow of the room, and rearrange furniture to create symmetry. "By designing a room with symmetry, you create a mirror-like image in a space," says Belt. "The room looks and feels calmer because there are fewer pieces and objects to focus on."
Introduce accents in calm colors. Cerrano believes décor in "foundation or grounding colors" can instantly change the mood of a space. Opt for accent pieces—like lamps, trays, and decorative objects—in soft shades of lavender, blue, green, or beige, or earth tones such as dusty yellow.
Embrace silence. Moments of pure silence can be fleeting if you live in a city or share your home with others. If you're accustomed to the whir of a siren or the buzz of background television, it's time to switch off. Create a zen-like retreat by turning off appliances, and embrace quiet time.
Turn off notifications. There's a reason remote vacations with limited Wi-Fi offer such allure. Research suggests the incessant ping of notifications are addictive and could be to blame for rising stress levels. Channel vacation vibes by turning off phone and email notification alerts, and limit yourself to checking them twice a day.
Open windows. Findings presented at the Acoustical Society of America's annual meeting suggest there's a simple way to boost your mood and productivity: Listen to nature. Lead author Jonas Braasch said that natural sounds can help rejuvenate our brain power, and found that participants performed better and reported feeling happier when listening to nature sounds, such as flowing water.
Curate a playlist. The psychological benefits of music are well-known, but how do you know which songs are best to dispel stress? According to research, quiet classical music with a slow tempo and without too much volume variation is optimal for relaxation. Create a playlist with lyric-free soft classical music; light jazz is also sometimes recommended.
Add natural accents. Create a sense of calm and balance in your home by embracing the Japanese practice of wabi-sabi. The key is imperfection: Opt for accents made from natural materials like rough wood, unpolished stone, or woven jute.
Balance textures. Cerrano says the ultimate zen home strikes a delicate balance of hard and soft textures—think yin and yang. "Yin is female energy, which could be translated in a physical environment to soft textures, darker colors, and low lighting," she explains. "Yang relates to male energy, which could be translated as hard surfaces, solid textures, and a well-illuminated space." Make sure your space is balanced with soft items like a mohair throw and hard surfaces like mirrors or ceramic lamps.
Upgrade linens. It wouldn't be a staycation without fresh, fluffy linens. Treat yourself by trading worn towels and sheets for new ones.
Add a fire element. "[Introducing this element] could help create an atmosphere of unwinding and relaxing," says Cerrano. "This could be implemented with candles, a fireplace, or the addition of small accented warm colors in your home."
Choose a citrus fragrance. A study in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine revealed that participants were less anxious during a stressful test when they smelt sweet orange essential oil. Light a citrus candle, or burn essential oil to reap the benefits at home.
Introduce greenery. Cerrano and Belt agree: Adding living plants or flowers to your home is an instant way to de-stress an environment. "When selecting plants, choose ones that have round, soft, or curved leaves, such as bamboo, peace lily, rubber tree, or Boston fern," says Cerrano.
Snack smart. Feeling stressed? Research suggests you should reach for foods that will help stabilize blood pressure and relieve tension. A 2019 study found that green, leafy vegetables are ideal, as they contain B vitamins, which produce the feel-good chemical dopamine. Other foods to stock your fridge with include turkey breast, oatmeal, and yogurt.
Stock your bar cart. It wouldn't be a vacation without a cocktail in hand. Splurge on a few special bar-cart items, mix a cabana-worthy cocktail, and relax, knowing you never have to check out.
The Clutter Culture. UCLA. July 1, 2012
Kim SK, Kim SY, Kang HB. An Analysis of the Effects of Smartphone Push Notifications on Task Performance with Regard to Smartphone Overuse Using ERP. Comput Intell Neurosci. 2016;2016:5718580. doi:10.1155/2016/5718580
'Natural' Sounds Improve Mood and Productivity, Study Finds. American Association for the Advancement of Science. May 19, 2015
Trappe H-J, Voit G. The Cardiovascular Effect of Musical Genres. Deutsches Aerzteblatt Online. Published online May 20, 2016. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2016.0347
Goes TC, Antunes FD, Alves PB, Teixeira-Silva F. Effect of Sweet Orange Aroma on Experimental Anxiety in Humans. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2012;18(8):798-804. doi:10.1089/acm.2011.0551
Young LM, Pipingas A, White DJ, Gauci S, Scholey A. A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of B Vitamin Supplementation on Depressive Symptoms, Anxiety, and Stress: Effects on Healthy and ‘At-Risk’ Individuals. Nutrients. 2019;11(9):2232. doi:10.3390/nu11092232